Denver: The Undocumented Mother Living in a Church

Immigration rights activist Jeanette Vizguerra (Credit: Jeanette Vizguerra)

Jeanette Vizguerra is a mother of three and immigration rights activist who was named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People.

Earlier this year, undocumented mother Jeanette Vizguerra spent 86 days seeking refuge in the basement of a Denver church. Despite living and working in the United States for more than 20 years, Vizguerra was fighting a deportation battle with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the risk of being separated from her three American-born children Zury, 6, Roberto, 11, and Luna, 13.

“Those were very difficult days as I could only see my children on weekends,” said Vizgeurra. “The nights without them were the hardest but during the week I did my motherly tasks, such as waking them up for school, over the telephone.”

Deportation risk

Vizguerra, 45, moved the U.S. from Mexico in 1997, working as a janitor and union organizer, and later owning a moving and cleaning business. But in 2009, she was caught with fake identification that she had acquired in order to work, and has been fighting deportation ever since.

It isn’t fair that this broken system
forces us to resist in this way.

“I felt very supported by the people from First Unitarian Society of Denver,” Vizguerra added. “They made me feel loved and protected. But that didn’t stop me from being in confinement. It isn’t fair that this broken system forces us to resist in this way.”

National recognition

Although well-known in the Denver area as an advocate for immigration rights, Vizguerra attained national recognition this year after deciding to go public with her story. She wrote an essay for The New York Times and was named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2017.

Vizguerra, who is now campaigning on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), says she hopes the recognition will make it possible for her to help even more people.

“It is an example for my children not to surrender and fight for their dreams and convictions,” she said. “The recognition will help me take my voice further to continue fighting for my immigrant community.”

Read more stories about immigration at vice.com/immigration.